May is Melanoma/Skin Cancer Month

Do you know that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer? And that it’s on the rise, with increased incidence over the last 30 years? In fact, the American Cancer Society estimates that, in 2013, almost 77,000 new melanomas will be diagnosed in the U.S. alone, and over 9,000 people will die of the disease.

While prevention and early screening are critical, fighting skin cancer once it develops is still a challenge. That’s why researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science are attacking skin cancer and melanoma from a number of angles, including:

Identifying the genes involved in melanoma

New scientist Prof. Yardena Samuels, who comes to the Department of Molecular Cell Biology from the Cancer Genetics Branch of the National Human Genome Research Institute, uses the power of DNA sequencing to identify new groups of genetic mutations involved in the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma. In fact, one of her discoveries, a mutation found in nearly one-fifth of melanoma cases, is particularly encouraging because it is located in a gene already targeted by a drug approved for some types of breast cancer, and preliminary clinical trials are underway. Read more

“Green” melanoma therapy

Prof. Avigdor Scherz of the Department of Plant Sciences and Prof. Yoram Salomon of the Department of Biological Regulation developed a photodynamic “green” therapy that uses light to activate cancer-killing drugs and destroy cancer cells. The method was found to be efficient in curing melanoma with a success rate of 85 percent.

Adoptive cell transfer

Prof. Zelig Eshhar of the Department of Immunology is working to boost the body’s own anti-cancer defenses via “adoptive cell transfer,” in which patients receive a therapeutic injection of their own immune cells. This therapy is currently being tested in early clinical trials of melanoma and neuroblastoma. Read more

Interrupting communication to stop proliferation

Prof. Avri Ben-Ze’ev of the Department of Molecular Cell Biology has long studied the role of a gene called beta-catenin in various cancers. He has now identified a cell adhesion molecule, Nr-CAM, that is unleashed by beta-catenin’s signaling. Nr-CAM, which was not previously known to play a role in cancer, is dramatically elevated in colon cancer and melanoma cells. Read more

Using the immune system

Prof. Michel Revel of the Department of Molecular Genetics isolated interleukin-6, or IL-6, an immune system protein that can also play a role in cancer treatment. Studies are examining whether IL-6 can be used to improve the effectiveness of vaccines against advanced cancer such as melanoma. Read more